By Richard Daubney, 29 January 2019
Around 4 months ago I began writing a training programme for organisations called Mind-Fit for Performance, based on the mindfulness practices of Buddhist monks that are over 2600 years old (which counters the argument of some that mindfulness is a passing fad!).
After reading Robert Wright’s book “Why Buddhism is True” I also wanted to cross reference these ancient practices with modern science, where there is is now some convergence as to how the mind works. In addition, I wanted the practices to be practical and adaptable for both work and home life; in other words, not just a nice theory.
To understand the true essence of mindfulness, I went directly to the source – Buddhist monks. I have been lucky enough to have received their knowledge and wisdom directly, as well as through travel to Thailand and Vietnam and of course via books and articles. Had I been young and single I may have also travelled to Tibet, however luckily the Bodhinyanarama Buddhist monastery in Stokes Valley is only an hour from where I live! How handy – enlightenment in Stokes Valley!
Anyway, I thought the beginning of a new year is an opportune time to share some of the key insights I have uncovered from my work:
The insight of fearlessness: If you let go of ego and attachment, you can become fearless. When you are fearless, you don’t need to be courageous as there is no longer any fear to conquer! Imagine what you could achieve if you were fearless. Imagine a fearless workplace.
Fearlessness is not only possible, it is the ultimate joy. When you touch non-fear, you are free.Thich Nhat Han
The insight of emotional control: Emotions are the fuel that propel thoughts, which prompt actions that cause future outcomes. Reflexing to afflictive thoughts and emotions always leads to undesirable future outcomes (this is the nature of karma). Controlling response before acting, is something that can be learned by observing and reflecting on thoughts and emotions, with detachment and without judgement. You will soon see that your emotions are impermanent – as you observe them, they evaporate like mist.
Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.Viktor Frankl
The insight of being in the present: Being mindful is the intentional use of attention in the present. The past is memory. However, you can heal the past in the present. The future is imagination and is therefore by its very nature not real. However, you can influence the future positively by using the present mindfully.
The insight of stillness: You can refresh and reset by bringing your mind to a state of stillness. Tens of thousands of thoughts and emotions pass through your mind each day – this can create mental dullness, stress and anxiety. Stillness can be achieved by focusing the mind on something as simple as breathing, even for as little as a couple of minutes. The mind is like a pond that has been stirred up; the sediment is like our thoughts and emotions. When we remain still, the sediment settles, and the water becomes clear. When there is mental stillness, there is calmness and clarity. Calmness and clarity are also foundational for innovative and creative thought processes.
The insight of loving kindness and compassion: This starts with self – if you are suffering then you will also cause others to suffer. It extends out to all living things and includes those people you may see as enemies. Loving kindness and compassion are the antidotes to afflictive emotions such as anger, hatred and jealousy. When loving kindness and compassion are allowed to flourish in the mind, there is no room for afflictive thoughts and emotions.
Loving kindness and compassion are the basis for wise, powerful, sometimes gentle, and sometimes fierce actions that can really make a difference in our own lives and those of others.Sharon Salzberg
The insight of authentic happiness: Authentic happiness is never achieved by chasing pleasure, as many of us in the western world think. Pleasure is external, unstable and fleeting. For example, the pleasure associated with buying a new car, getting a new job title or going on an overseas holiday is all very temporary. The pleasure diminishes the more the experience is sustained or repeated. Authentic happiness is cultivated internally and can be achieved through focus on loving kindness and compassion (altruism). This does not mean that pleasure should be avoided, it just means that the foundation is authentic happiness.
These practices are now transforming some of the biggest companies in the world as they promote better co-operation, collaboration, creativity, focus, resilience, adaptability to change and EQ. Google attribute their Search Inside Yourself programme as the reason they are one of the highest rated employers in the world. General Mills reported that after running a 7-week mindfulness programme, 83% of participants stated that they took time every day to optimise productivity (up 23% from before the course), 80% of senior executives reported that they had improved their decision making and 89% said they had become better listeners. Aetna reported that there was a 28% decrease in stress levels and overall increase in productivity levels.
Neuroscientist, Professor Richard J Davidson is also validating the benefits of mindfulness in the research he is conducting at University of Wisconsin, Madison. This has included MRI scanning the brains of Buddhist monks who have practised meditation for at least 20 years.
In future articles I will expand on some of these insights. If there is anything in particular you would like me to cover, or have any questions please let me know.